Russian troops storm town amid shelling in eastern Ukraine

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Russian and Ukrainian troops engaged in close combat in a town in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as soldiers from Moscow, backed by heavy shelling, tried to gain a strategic foothold in the area while facing to fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian forces were “storming” the eastern town of Sievierodonetsk, where fighting cut off electricity and mobile phone services and terrorized civilians who did not flee.

Sievierodonetsk, a manufacturing hub, has become the epicenter of Russia’s quest to conquer Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region. Russia has also stepped up efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where Ukrainian officials have reported constant shelling.

Debris hangs from a residential building heavily damaged in a Russian bombardment in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine (Francisco Seco/AP)

The two cities, with a combined pre-war population of around 200,000, are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with neighboring Donetsk make up Donbass. Russia is focused on capturing parts of both that are not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Russian forces have made small advances in recent days as shelling gnawed at Ukrainian positions and kept civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to get out to safety.

Attacks on military targets across the country have also resulted in casualties in civilian areas.

In his Saturday evening video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the situation in the East as “very complicated” and “indescribably difficult”.

“The Russian military is trying to achieve at least some result” by concentrating its attacks there, he said.

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A serviceman from the Donetsk People’s Republic militia prepares to fire a portable air defense system at a position near Panteleimonivka (Alexei Alexandrov/AP)

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said there was fighting at the city’s bus station on Saturday. A humanitarian center could not function due to the danger, he said, and mobile phone services and electricity were cut. Residents risked being exposed to shelling to draw water from half a dozen wells, he added.

However, some supply routes were working and evacuations of the injured were still possible, Striuk said. He estimated that 1,500 civilians in the city, which had a population of around 100,000 before the war, died from fighting as well as lack of medicine and incurable diseases.

Regional Governor Serhiy Haidai claimed the Russians withdrew “with losses” around the village of Bobrove, about 20 km southeast of Sievierodonetsk, but were carrying out airstrikes on a nearby village on the strategic Siverskiy River. Donetsk.

“The situation in Lysychansk is serious due to constant shelling by the occupiers; there are dead and injured,” he wrote on Telegram, without giving further details.

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People wait to receive humanitarian aid in Kramatorsk, Ukraine (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

On Saturday, he said, one civilian died and four were injured when a Russian shell hit a high-rise building. A local cinema and 22 other residential buildings were also damaged, he said.

Ukraine’s military said Sunday morning that Russian forces were trying to reinforce their positions around Lyman, a small town that serves as a key rail hub in the Donetsk region.

“The enemy is strengthening its units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in an operational update. “He’s trying to establish himself in the area.”

Moscow claimed on Saturday that it took Lyman, but authorities in Kyiv did not acknowledge this.

The Ukrainian military said heavy fighting continued around Donetsk, the provincial capital.

He also said Russia launched an offensive on Saturday night around the town of Bakhmut in neighboring Luhansk region but was repelled.

In the same operational update, the army alluded to the high number of casualties suffered by Moscow, saying that civilians were no longer admitted to hospitals in Crimea annexed by Russia because beds were needed for soldiers. wounded.

It was not immediately possible to verify the accuracy of these claims.

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Children play while their parents wait to receive humanitarian aid in the village of Andriivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

More broadly, Russia launched new airstrikes overnight on the Kharkiv and Sumy regions of northern Ukraine, Ukrainian state agencies said.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Sunday morning that Russian shelling had sparked fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

Russia has continued to shell Kharkiv, located in northeastern Ukraine, after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.

Mr. Zelensky visited Kharkiv on Sunday.

Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov told the President that Russian troops remained in possession of around 30% of the Kharkiv region, while troops from Kyiv had recaptured another 5%.

Syniehubov said the Russian attacks had destroyed more than 2,000 apartment buildings, with the northern and eastern parts of Kharkiv city particularly affected.

Mr. Zelensky also met with Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Kharkiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Markus Schreiber/AP)

“I feel boundless pride in our defenders. Every day, at the risk of their lives, they fight for the freedom of Ukraine,” he wrote in a Telegram post.

Ukraine’s Border Guard Service said border areas in the Sumy region east of Kharkiv were hit by six unguided missiles.

The agency reported no casualties.

Russia claimed its forces had destroyed a major Ukrainian ammunition depot in Kryvyi Rih, a town in central Ukraine that is Mr Zelensky’s hometown.

High-precision missiles hit a depot located “within one of the industrial enterprises”, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Ukrainian emergency services have confirmed that an industrial plant in Kryvyi Rih caught fire after a strike from two Russian rockets and suffered “significant damage”.

Officials did not say whether it served as a military depot.

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